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Xiamen Cruises

About Xiamen, China

About Xiamen, China

Formerly known to Westerners as Amoy, Xiamen straddles the islands at the mouth of the Jiulong River as it spills into the Taiwan Strait. One of China’s most fascinating cities, it is graced by salty sea breezes, rocky promontories, picturesque colonial architecture and gleaming glass towers. The venerable Xiamen University, with perhaps the most beautiful campus in China, actually has its own beach. Xiamen has been largely influenced by the Hoklo people. Han Chinese whose ancestors hail from this Fujian province, they continue to hand down their own unique dialect and cultural traditions. The city’s Nanputuo Temple, a sacred Buddhist shrine dating to the Tang Dynasty, is one of China’s most revered and attracts pilgrims from all corners of the nation.

Before silt closed off Xiamen’s lake from the sea, the island-city boasted one of the world’s great natural harbors. The British knew it had enormous potential as a major trade port when they brought the British East India Company here in 1678 and built a factory. With the establishment of the Canton System, by which all of China’s trade needed to be funneled through the city of Canton, the economy faltered. Britain fought for fair trade for centuries after, notably in the First and Second Opium Wars. Eventually, the Treaty of Nanjing opened five ports to British trade, Xiamen among them, and soon tea, porcelain, rice and opium were being loaded on cargo ships bound for Europe and the Americas. In the early 20th century, the tea trade shifted to India and the city suffered from mass emigration. It wasn’t until later in the century that Xiamen recovered, when China’s new “Opening Up Policy” named Xiamen one of the nation’s four special economic zones.

Xiamen Lifestyle and Culture

Though Mandarin is the official language of Xiamen, many locals speak Xiamenese, also known as Amoynese. The people of Xiamen treasure their music, puppetry, Gezi Opera and temple celebrations. Locals especially have an ear for the philharmonic, and it’s common to find an orchestral concert on most any weekend. Painting is also somewhat of an obsession with the Xiamenese. The unique Wushipu Oil Painting Village, the largest such complex in the world, keeps more than 3,000 painters busy creating small and large works for commercial clients, from hotels to corporations.

Xiamen is home to some one dozen universities and colleges, which infuses the city with a vibrant youth culture. Though the city is situated on an island, it is connected to the mainland by a causeway, four bridges and an undersea tunnel, so the city’s culture is by no means isolated from that of mainland China.

Xiamen Sights and Landmarks

The Buddhist complex of Nanputuo Temple, perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the city, is one of the most celebrated among the Fujianese people of Xiamen. Long a pilgrimage site for the devout all over China and the world, it is an active temple where monks solemnly chant and worshippers light incense. Admire its colorful pavilions and halls with tiled roofs and the surrounding manicured gardens and walkways. In Devajara Hall, you’ll see the large laughing Buddha, and in Mahavira Hall, take in a lush and vibrant interior. Nearby, Xiamen’s grand university is a rich repository of republican-era buildings surrounding a picturesque lake. It’s an ideal place for a leisurely stroll or a peek into its anthropology museum, where a pair of large “boat coffins” found on a cliff in Wuyi Shan are on display.

One of the city’s most noticeable landmarks is Hulishan Fortress, built in 1894 as a defense against invasion. Its Krupp Cannon, provided by a German company, had a range of ten miles. Some 50 other cannons adorn the preserved edifice, which offers spectacular vistas of the sea and distant islands.

Xiamen Entertainment and Activities

A 10-minute ferry ride takes visitors to Gulangyu Island, a gloriously car-free haven of narrow winding lanes and the colonial architecture of former days. For a brief period, this was China’s only foreign settlement except for the well-known concessions in Shanghai. Some 13 countries had privileges that allowed their merchants to take up residence here. But the British were in charge, as you may be able to tell from the largely Victorian-style architecture that remains. As you explore, you might hear the soft tinkling of piano music coming from a window; the British introduced pianos to their settlement and there were so many brought here that Gulangyu became known as “Piano Island.”

Xiamen’s island setting puts many beaches within easy reach. Though swimming is rarely allowed at Baicheng Beach, it boasts a picturesque environment, a scenic boardwalk and soft sands. Nearby, Bailuzhou Park occupies a charming islet and offers inviting pathways and tree-lined lanes.

Xiamen Restaurants and Shopping

The cuisine of Xiamen is lighter than on the mainland. Readily available seafood, mushrooms and bamboo shoots reflect the region’s reliance on the sea and the surrounding forests in everyday meals. Braising, stewing, steaming and boiling are the most common cooking methods. Meals are seldom served without soup.

Sample Fujianese noodle dishes, or peanut soup, a warm comfort food.

To find the perfect keepsake of your visit, head to Zhongshan Road, which runs through the historic quarter of the city. Its pedestrian-only street is lined with attractive European architecture and local Chinese buildings. Or peruse the shops selling garments and cultural handicrafts along Xiamen University Street, which faces the Nanputuo Temple.